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Libyan war 'not over' as Gadhafi's son killed in battle, rebels say

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Gadhafi town falls to rebels
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Algeria took in Gadhafi kin on "humanitarian grounds," an official says
  • NEW: Some progress, continued challenges in Tripoli at the end of Ramadan
  • Khamis Gadhafi, a son of the Libyan leader, has been killed, a rebel leader says
  • Fighting continues in pockets around Libya, between rebels and Gahafi loyalists

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Tripoli residents rang in the end of Ramadan with celebratory gunfire and fresh signs of economic life early Tuesday, though even rebel claims of the death of one of Moammar Gadhaf's most notorious sons were tempered by continuous fighting and challenges around Libya.

Hours earlier, Mahdi al-Harati -- the vice chairman of the rebel's Military Council, the military wing of the National Transitional Council -- told CNN that Khamis Ghadafi died after a battle with rebel forces Sunday night in northwest Libya, between the villages of Tarunah and Bani Walid.

Khamis, who headed the 32nd brigade charged with protecting the Gadhafi family, was taken to a hospital where he died from his injuries, the rebel commander said. He was then buried in the area by rebel forces, according to al-Harati.

Rebel officials have previously made claims, which later proved untrue, that children of Moammar Gadhafi had been killed or captured. Still, if verified, it would mark a significant step forward for the opposition movement, given Khamis' reportedly key role in his father's military and, according to human rights groups and U.S. Vice Adm. William Gortney of the Joint Staff, in attacking unarmed civilians.

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Muneer Masoud Own, for instance, told CNN on Sunday that, among other attacks, forces led by Khamis killed scores of captive civilians as they tried to retreat from Tripoli. CNN could not independently verify the claim, though Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both documented the alleged incident.

Khamis' mother -- and Moammar's wife -- Safia, meanwhile, is in Algeria. So, too, are the leader's daughter Aisha, two of his sons, Hannibal and Mohamed, and their children, who escaped to Algeria. The nation's U.N. ambassador, Mourad Benmehidi, said they were taken in on "humanitarian grounds."

Mahmoud al-Shammam, spokesman for the National Transitional Council, told CNN that if and when the NTC confirms the development, it will lodge a protest with the Algerian government and demand the Gadhafi kin be forced back to Libya.

They had escaped from Tripoli, where some shops have begun to reopen, traffic has picked up, and humanitarian aid has started trickling in. Plus, France reopened its embassy on Monday, and Britain said its personnel are preparing to do the same.

Yet life was still far from normal, with no running water in the city and food in short supply, and there was frenzied fighting elsewhere in the North African nation.

In fact, the chiefs of staff from countries involved militarily in the conflict -- Greece, Italy, Canada, Belgium, Jordan, Spain, Turkey and Norway -- who met in Qatar on Monday underscored that the "war in Libya is not over."

"There is still a need for the continuation of joint work in order to achieve the Libyan people's goals to get rid of the remnants of the Gadhafi regime," Qatar's news agency reported, citing the foreign military leaders.

One example of the challenges faced by rebels was evident in the southwestern Libyan city of Sabha, a traditional Gadhafi stronghold that has a military base and a thriving agricultural industry..

That's where "freedom fighters" were running out of ammunition and were being outgunned by Moammar Gadhafi "mercenaries," according to Abdel Karim Sabhwee, a rebel spokesman.

Sabhwee said on television that pro-Gadhafi brigades were joined by reinforcements from other towns, from which they had fled. He said talks for a peaceful resolution have stalled and three rebels were killed in fighting on Sunday.

Another flashpoint was in Gadhafi's birthplace of Sirte, east of Tripoli, where rebel fighters gave the leader's loyalists a deadline to disarm or face "liberation," said National Transition Council military spokesman Ahmed Bani.

The ultimatum follows days of fighting and reports of negotiations between rebels and loyalists to surrender the city.

Meanwhile, evidence began to emerge Sunday about the alleged atrocity committed by Khamis Gadhafi's brigade, which happened near a main road from Tripoli to the city's airport, which the rebels secured Friday after days of heavy fighting.

On August 22, Gadhafi forces hurled grenades and sprayed bullets into a building full of men they had promised to release, claimed survivor Muneer Masoud Own.

Rebels advancing on Tripoli discovered the bodies, many of which CNN video showed were charred beyond recognition, in a warehouse next to the military base. In addition, a resident who lives nearby said at least 22 bodies were found in a ditch near the base, but it was not clear whether those remains were connected to the killings at the warehouse.

CNN cannot independently verify the claims.

Own, 33, said that by the time of the attack, there were about 175 captives ranging in age from 17 to 70 in the warehouse. The guards told them they'd be released by sunset but, just before, the guards began shooting, according to Own.

Bashir Own, who is not related to Muneer Masoud Own but was also at the warehouse, estimated there were about 150 bodies.

Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch, said his group found the remains of at least 45 bodies in a warehouse, but he told CNN it is possible there were more deaths. The group found a survivor who said 153 detainees were at the site and 20 escaped from the attack.

Diana Eltahawy, an Amnesty International researcher, told CNN on Monday said there had been 150 to 160 at the location. She said about 50 bodies were found at the site, and it's not clear whether the rest escaped or were slain and then moved.

Except for calls into a loyalist television station from Moammar Gadhafi, he and his relatives have largely been unseen since rebels took over most of Tripoli last week.

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But another of the leader's sons, businessman Saadi Gadhafi, has offered to negotiate an end to the war with the rebels, who he claimed cannot "build a new country without having us (at) the table." He has made previous offers, though this time he appeared ready to cut loose his father and his brother Saif al-Islam, once assumed to be the senior Gadhafi's heir.

"If (the rebels) agree to cooperate to save the country together (without my father and Saif) then it will be easy and fast. I promise!" Saadi Gadhafi said in an e-mail to CNN's Nic Robertson.

Meanwhile, debate continued to swirl Monday about Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the man convicted of blowing up a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

A number of leading U.S. senators have been highly critical of Scotland's decision to release al Megrahi from prison in 2009 on the grounds that he had cancer and was not likely to live more than three months, and there has been talk of seeking his extradition.

Al Megrahi is currently under the care of his family in his palatial Tripoli villa, surviving on oxygen and an intravenous drip.

Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am 103 support group, blasted the report that al Megrahi was near death, saying he didn't believe it or that the convicted felon meritted any reprieve.

"His family is trying to make a sympathetic character out of an unrepentant, murderous monster," Duggan wrote CNN by e-mail on Monday.

The Scottish government Monday took aim at critics of its decision to release him and send him back to Scotland.

"Speculation about al Megrahi in recent days has been unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed ill-informed," said the Scottish government and the local council that monitors him since his release. "As has always been said, al Megrahi is dying of a terminal disease."

Libya's National Transitional Council told CNN Monday that the decision on what to do with al Megrahi will be left to the still-to-be elected government of Libya.

"This will be left to the Libyan people to decide in the future. The (council) is an interim body and it cannot decide major issues," Mahmoud Jibril, president of the executive bureau of the National Transitional Council, told CNN.

"Our main priority now is stability and order in the country and Tripoli," he added.

CNN's Arwa Damon, Kareem Khadder, Nic Robertson, and Dan Rivers in Libya; Jordana Ossad in New York; and Joe Sterling and Salma Abdelaziz in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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